The Dream That Will Not Die

They say “misery loves company,” whoever “they” are, and I experienced a little “comfort” from being in the majority yesterday, MLK Day. NPR did an excellent job all day of doing interviews about people who influenced Dr. King and vice versa. I was listening while driving so couldn’t take notes, but I was struck by one professor’s comment. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that it’s important to remind people today who rightfully honor King for being the great civil rights leader that he was that he was not loved and was even reviled by a majority of Americans while he was alive. He cited stats indicating that about 60% of white Americans regarded MLK as a rabble rouser and trouble maker during his lifetime, and a bit surprising, that 50% of black Americans disagreed with King’s tactics and felt he was making their lives more difficult.

Those stats helped ease some guilt I’ve carried for 50 plus years for being one of those whites who dismissed Dr. King as a troublemaker. I even remember thinking the horrible thought that “he got what he was asking for” when he was assassinated. Given my upbringing in an all white, very conservative family and community where in the words of a Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song from “South Pacific” I was “carefully taught to hate all the people my relatives hate” that is not too surprising. In fact I learned just a few years ago that there was a KKK chapter in my NW Ohio community and that one of my great uncles was one of the leaders in that ugly movement. My younger self had no chance but to breathe in the putrid stench of racism.

I was a senior in college, however, when King was gunned down in Memphis and should have begun to know better. My old worldviews were being stretched a bit at that point, but I still remember hearing a sermon the Sunday after Dr. King’s murder where the preacher referred to King as a “Christ figure.” That was more than my puny mind could handle back then, and in hindsight I think it might have been too much for his congregation too since he was soon forced out of that church after only two years there. And that was one of Methodism’s more “liberal” churches. Ironically that pastor became a good friend, colleague, and mentor to me 5 or 6 years later when I was appointed associate pastor to that same congregation after graduating from seminary.

By then I had been converted to a social gospel theology by my seminary professors, and I too got in some hot water for crossing the imaginary line between church and politics. A few years later when I went back to grad school to study rhetoric, which classically is the art of persuasive discourse, I wrote a paper I titled “They Shoot Prophets, Don’t They?” That paper was partly my excuse for not being a more outspoken social critic and partly my more scholarly attempt to understand the very real historical phenomenon I had lived through in the assassinations in Dallas, Memphis, and L.A. in just 5 years between 1963 and 1968.

Prophets are much easier to love from the perspective of history — when they are not goring our current oxen. Lincoln was reviled and hated in his lifetime. Gandhi was assassinated. And let’s not forget about Jesus. We’ve sanitized his crucifixion with the flawed doctrine of substitutionary atonement when the cold hard truth is that Jesus was executed because he was a thorn in the side of the Jewish and Roman authorities who had to go.

One other thing I remember about grad school 30 plus years ago is that I wrote a different paper analyzing the rhetorical effectiveness of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. My argument then and now is that the reason that speech was so powerful is because the dream MLK delivered so eloquently on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was not a new dream. King’s dream speech was brilliantly built on the foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition all the way back to Amos and Micah and Isaiah. Those visions of “righteousness rolling down like waters,” of “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God” were also woven into the founding documents of our nation by Jefferson. King reminds us all in his powerful voice and vibrant images of those very values our common life aspires to.

That dream has survived crucifixion, persecution, crusades, pogroms, Holocaust, genocide, and systemic racism for over 2800 years. It is so easy to be discouraged that the forces of evil have risen up in recent years to seemingly defeat that dream, but the lesson of history is that truth and justice will prevail someday. It’s very frustrating that we have regressed in our pursuit of the dream Dr. King lived and died for. Our schools and neighborhoods and churches are still segregated. Alabama and Mississippi still celebrate Robert E. Lee day on King’s birthday. White supremacy has polluted the political mainstream and taken over the party of Lincoln. But we still have a dream that is stronger than hate, and “deep in my heart I do believe, that dream will overcome someday.”

Hallows Eve Prayer

O divine Creator, in our topsy-turvy world it is so important to spend time with you as the one true North Star that is our unwavering guide through all the joys and sorrows of this mortal life.  Your eternal and constant presence is so vitally important to us In a world where Prime Ministers rise and fall faster than the stock market; where prices keep rising, where election ads bombard our airwaves and inboxes, and political violence reigns from San Francisco to Ukraine.  The change of seasons is bittersweet as we relinquish the warmth of summer for the beauty of fall, but we draw comfort from the assurance than the seasons come and go on your dependable schedule no matter what craziness we humans inflict on your creation.  

We count on the steadfastness of your grace even as we are ashamed of how far we humans drift from your plan for us and your creation.  In this season of ghosts and goblins we are often so embarrassed that we want to hide from you in costumes that disguise us from our own sin and selfishness.  It is so easy to get swallowed up by our own privilege and comfort where the false idols of materialism and the prosperity gospel wait to ambush us on every billboard and in every commercial.  We know better, Lord.  We know we can’t serve you and money at the same time. But like St. Paul we often do the very things we know we should not do and vice versa.  

We admire the heroines and heroes of the faith who bravely stand up for your truth at great risk to themselves.  They trust that you have power over death itself, but so often our faith is weak in the face of the sacrifices it will take for us to truly follow you.  And so we come to worship putting on a smile even when we are dying inside.  We pretend we are fine when we feel lost and broken-hearted.  Or we are afraid to share our joys and successes because we know others are grieving and lonely.  

Open our ears this Sabbath day, O Holy One, to hear again the wonderful news of your amazing grace.  Pull away our masks and costumes and liberate us from the fear and doubt that keeps us hiding out light under a bushel.  Remind us again that Jesus didn’t just invite a select few to his table.  With open arms Jesus says, “Come to me ALL who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  He broke bread with sinners and tax collectors because he knew they are your beloved children also.  

And so are we, not because we are better than anyone else, but simply because we are a part of your heavenly family.  We all matter just as all the parts of our anatomy matter to our bodies.  We are not made to be self-sufficient or alone, but to be members of the church, the body of Christ.  We give thanks for this community of believers called to put our faith into action and to transform our broken world into your beloved community.  Thank you, O God, for sending Jesus into the world to show us that we need not hide from you no matter what but can humbly come to you anytime and anywhere just as we are.  In that assurance we boldly offer our prayers and our lives to you in the name of Jesus our liberator, saying as one the prayer he taught us to say…

Pastoral Prayer, Sunday, October 30, Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH

All Nighter Prayer

Hey God, do you ever have trouble sleeping? Oh, if you are omnipresent, I guess you can’t ever sleep can you? Or do you let the angels take over sometimes to give you a break? Yes, I know that anthropomorphic stuff isn’t real, but it’s 1:20 am; and I can’t sleep. I don’t know anyone else who’s awake at this hour that I can talk to; so you’re it. My sleeping pills have let me down. Reading and doing Wordle haven’t worked; and my blasted neuropathy has my feet feeling like they are on fire.

The more I think about my feet the more they hurt. The harder I try to shut my mind off, the louder the racket in my brain seems. At this hour all my aches and pains seem worse, and my list of things I need to get done in the next few days looms like some Sisyphusian boulder daring me to push it up that damn hill again.

I’m actually scared, God. The pain in my feet has never been this bad before. I’ve always been able to manage it with cream, drugs, and/or ice; but tonight/this morning nothing is working, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t handle sleepless nights like I used to when my youth groups did all night lock-ins at the church, or when I pulled all nighters to study for an exam or finish a term paper.

When you wrestled with Jacob all night long I guess he must have had a lot of adrenaline flowing to keep him going that long. That night near the Jabbock river Jacob had even more things on his mind. He was about to face the music of meeting his brother Esau years after he had swindled him out of his birthright and their father’s blessing. Jacob has sent huge amounts of cattle and other gifts across the river to assuage Esau’s anger, but restless Jacob is afraid it is not enough to buy his brother’s forgiveness. This one who has stolen his brother’s blessing is not satisfied with all his ill-gotten gain. What he asks of God to end their marathon wrestling match is a blessing. Will that salve his guilty conscience? Does a divine blessing imply grace and forgiveness?

In a way yes because the blessing God grants to Jacob is a whole new beginning – a new identity in the form of a new name. He is “born again” long before that New Testament term is coined. Jacob no longer is stuck with his birth name which means “heal grabber” because he tried to yank Esau back into their mother’s womb so Jacob could be the first born. His new name/identity is “Israel” which means “one who contends with God.”

I could use a new identity too, holy parent. My physical aches and pains try mightily to label me as a victim of old age, but when I am caught up in that identity I have little to offer you. I am like a fly trying to escape from a spider’s web, turned in on my chronic ailments instead of focusing my energy on all that is right for me and how blessed I already am.

I could do a lot worse for a new name than “one who contends with God,” even if that means walking with a limp. Please help me, eternal Being, to appreciate my gray beard and arthritis as reminders that I have been blessed with decades of life to wrestle with you and your call upon my life. Like Jacob let me know again that you are not far off at the top of some stairway to heaven, but right here in the sweaty ring of life with me even in the wee hours of the night.

Thanks and Amen

When, Lord, when?

Oh Holy One , I am feeling like pharaoh must have felt during the plagues. Fire, floods, Covid, monkeypox, and the stupidity of gun violence and war bombard me constantly from my newsfeed.

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches once more I remember those pesky words from Jesus that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That was hard then and still is, oh so very hard.

Never did I imagine back then that I would see the day when political foes in our own country would be the enemies that I struggle to love or even forgive!

I know it’s wrong but I find myself longing for the God of Exodus who drowned the Egyptian‘s in the Red Sea. Or even for the God of Mary who promised us that the rich and powerful will be sent empty away. When, oh Holy One? When will justice roll down like waters? When will we beat our swords into garden tools and never learn war anymore? When, Lord, when?

In the words of one who survived one of the darkest hours of human history, Corrie Ten Boom, “Lord if you want these people forgiven you are going to have to do it because I can’t.“

And yet I give you thanks, Lord, for modern day prophets like Diana Butler Bass, Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and the dear departed Rachel Held Evans. They give me hope even in the depths of despair about the future of humanity.

And it’s not so much for myself that I pray, Holiest One. It is for those I love the most, my children and grandchildren, that I weep. They will inherit the mess my generation has made.

Please send your miracle-working spirit to renew a right spirit within us, to help us repent of the greed that is destroying our planet and the fabric of our society.

Oh how I hope that it is not too late. And I give thanks that in your eternal, cosmic power it is never too late. Amen

Never too old: Luke 1:5-25

I don’t often remember dreams that I have, but I had one recently that was very vivid and realistic and stuck with me when I woke up.  To put this dream in context you need to know that I had my 75th birthday in late October, and my wife Diana will also be 75 on New Year’s Day.   When we got engaged 20 years ago we were both in our early 50’s and Diana was teaching middle school.  When her students found out she was engaged they asked her if we planned to have a family!  She assured them we had both been there and done that. 

But in my recent dream we became parents of twins.  And if that wasn’t enough of a miracle we seemed to have done so without going thru labor and delivery.  Someone just presented the two babies to us, a boy and a girl, and they were both already named.  I didn’t remember the boy’s name when I woke up, but the girl was named Mary; like Jesus’ mother but it also happened to be Diana’s mother’s name. That Mary died 3 years ago at the age of 100.  But to make the dream even more surreal in the midst of becoming parents who have Medicare pay the maternity bills, in my dream we were making plans for my mother-in-law’s funeral while holding our two newborns.  The full circle of life was there in that one interesting if confusing scene.

That dream during this Advent season turned my thoughts to the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah in our Scripture for today.  They too were way beyond child-bearing age, and we can understand Zechariah’s reluctance to believe it was possible for his vision to be true.  But here’s the problem.  Zechariah was a priest, and as such one would assume he knew the Scriptures and would have been familiar with the story of Abram and Sarai who laughed at the angels who told them they were to be parents in their old age. 

One aside – there is a big difference between “knowing” the Abraham and Sarah story and really believing it.  I love this illustration of the difference between believing and trusting.  In the days before we had television and the internet to entertain us there were high wire artists who would perform in unbelievable places.  One of those dare devils was planning to walk a tightrope across part of Niagara Falls.  A huge crowd gathered to witness this daring attempt, but before climbing up to the wire the man walked among the crowd asking people if they thought he could successfully walk across that rope from one side to the other.  One after another the people said, “No, I think you’re crazy, but I want to watch any way.” 

Finally he found one enthusiastic fan who said, “Yes, of course I believe you can do it.”  And the aerial artist then asked, “Do you think I can do it pushing a wheelbarrow?”  “Sure, why not, said the fan.  I believe you can do that.”  “Good,” said the artist.  “You get in the wheelbarrow, and I’ll push.”  Zechariah wasn’t willing to get in the wheelbarrow.  He didn’t believe the angel, and for his lack of faith he was unable to speak until after his son, John the Baptist, was born.

But to return to the important person in our text, we find Elizabeth, who like Sarai believed she was barren, but God had other ideas.  Do you believe in miracles?  Yes, we know the Bible contains several miracle birth stories, including the birth of Jesus himself.  How do we explain these stories?  How is. It possible for a virgin to conceive or for a woman in her old age to give birth?  Does your health care here at Wesley Glen include maternity care?  

For starters let’s suspend our disbelief enough to consider that these are theological stories, not biological ones.  These miracle births are one way of saying that with God all things are possible.  What if I told you that someone your age or mine could travel into space?  And I’m not talking about billionaires pretending to be astronauts.   I’m talking about John Glenn who made his second trip to space at age 77.

Or a woman could become a world famous painter at 76?   Anna Mary Robertson, better known as Grandma Moses did just that.  Why?  She said, “I am too young to sit on the porch, and too old to work on the farm.”  She painted over 600 famous canvases and worked until she was over 100 years old.  Albert Schweitzer ministered to the sick in Africa until he was 89.  Johann von Goethe completed his masterpiece “Faust” when he was 81. 

Now we can say yes, but those folks didn’t have to deal with a global pandemic.  Or we can make other excuses about why we can’t do x, y, or z.  Believe me, I have a long litany of things I no longer can do, and it is oh so easy to get sucked into a quagmire of depression about the negative aspects of the aging process.  I throw plenty of pity parties for myself, and do you know how much good they do me or anyone else?  Not one darn bit.  

Does this story about the parents of John the Baptist mean that we need to expect a baby boom here at Wesley Glen?  I don’t think so, but it does mean that we need to open our hearts to whatever it is that God is calling each of us to do in this stage of our lives.  None of us expected old age to come quite so soon, did we?  But every one of us is younger today than we ever will be again.  What if we shift our focus from the past and all those things we miss that we can no longer do toward a future that God is laying out before us to claim joyfully.  I don’t know what hidden talents each of you possess, but God knows and is inviting you to embrace those and put them to work for the betterment of your life and those of your neighbors.

-Preached at Vespers service, Wesley Glenn Retirement Center, Columbus, OH 12/19/21

First Sunday in Advent

The first Sunday of Advent comes before the Thanksgiving leftovers are consumed to remind us again of the cares of a weary world. Most of us are more stuffed than our turkeys, and yet we know millions of our sisters and brothers have nothing to be thankful for. We are moved by that suffering and do our best to share out of our abundance; but we wonder if it will ever be enough.

As we prepare our hearts to receive the Christ child this Advent, let us rely on the Scriptures to renew our faith: Words that say, “Comfort, comfort my people” to God’s children in exile. Words that say, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Lighting one little candle seems so futile to our weary minds, but we dare to light it again this Advent, not because of the tiny light it gives off, but because of the hope it ignites in our hearts. We dare to be hopeful in a weary world because of a helpless peasant baby who emerges from the darkness of Mary’s womb to become the light of the world.

We know that the world’s cares and woes will pass away, but God’s word of hope will never die. And so today we stand up and raise our arms to light the candle of hope because we know that only in the strength of Christ can we survive these trying times and stand before God as redeemed people of hope. [lights candle]

And so we pray, Holy God, we come humbly to this season of preparation, not asking for the rest of the wealthy and privileged, but rest for our weary souls. We are are distressed and confused by cosmic warning signs of climate change. We are worn out from years of pandemic and paralyzed by partisan political warfare.

We are exhausted from playing the consumption game of our consumer Christmas culture, and frustrated by supply chain issues we can’t comprehend or control. We fall on our knees, O God, for we know that only the humble can hear the angel voices. Hear our prayers, we ask, during these dark December days that lead to great joy to the world. Amen

OMG!

Oh My God, I am bone-tired weary. I am already physically and emotionally exhausted from personal challenges and the chaos in the world is more than I can even bear to hear about. 8000 plus new COVID cases in Ohio today, 240 COVID deaths Statewide just this week alone — all so unnecessary and down right stupid. Throw in a tsunami of gun violence and deaths, probably in part caused by the stresses of the pandemic that refuses to end. Are we stronger and smarter than this ever-changing corona virus? According to the overflowing ICU numbers and the number of foolish, misinformed people still refusing to get vaccinate it would seem the virus is definitely winning.

On a more cosmic scale I hear that the hole in ozone layer over the South Pole is now larger than the entire continent of Antarctica. Floods, fires, and hurricanes of epic proportions still cannot convince most of us to admit our addiction to fossil fuel that, like most addictions, is killing us in bigger numbers every year. Yes, I know you showed Elijah that you were not in the earthquake, wind, or fire* but in the still small voice. You tell us to be still and know you are God, but Lord, it is so hard to be still in the midst of chaos. Yes, I know Jesus slept through the storm in the boat, but I am like the disciples who were afraid and chastised Jesus for napping while they were in mortal danger.

There is no off switch on my worrisome brain. Yes, I can sometimes shut off all my devices and not listen to the 24/7 news, but it is so much harder to still my mind and soul. Speak to me, Lord of the universe. Reassure me you are walking through this difficult time with me, carrying me or (dragging me if necessary) when my legs are too weary to keep going. Speak to the storm and calm the turbulent sea within my heart. I believe O God, help my unbelief. Amen

PS: I’m grateful to report that as it often does when I “take it to the Lord in prayer” I feel much better. I can’t explain how that works. I just know it does.

*Bible references: I Kings 19:12, Psalms 46:10, Matthew 8:24, Mark 9:24

Grief and Hope in Darkest Days

“In the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Job moving through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s well-known stages of grief and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, resignation, and acceptance. The first seven days of Job’s time on the “dung heap” of pain are spent in silence, the immediate response matching the first stage—denial. Then he reaches the anger stage, verses in the Bible in which Job shouts and curses at God. He says, in effect, “This so-called life I have is not really life, God, it’s death. So why should I be happy?”

That quote is from Father Richard Rohr’s daily devotion on August 2 of this year. I want to share the rest below because it speaks powerfully to the chaos of emotions I’ve be feeling for the last few weeks. Pressures of time, more physical health problems, depression about the resurgent Delta variant, and all the other “slings and arrows” of life have damned up my creative writing urges for weeks; so I apologize. In advance if this post gets too long. It has been worth it for me to ride it out, and I hope will be so for you as well.

After reading Fr. Rohr’s words that day I journaled the following dialogue of lament with God. “These words struck a chord with me about my anger and depression about my life and the mess our world is in. I have been stuck in unproductive anger for decades and its time to move along. Some connection there with shame the way Brene Brown discusses it. Help me Yahweh, the burden is literally breaking my back and I don’t know how to let it go. I feel trapped in a vicious cycle of pain, anger and shame that keeps me crippled and /or paralyzed with fear and doubt, layer upon layer piled higher and deeper over the years like a blind mole digging tunnels that go no where, afraid of the light that alone can overcome the darkness of gloom and despair. “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Oh, you think it is I who have done the forsaking – but I have lots of good excuses – my parents, my church, my teachers all failed me and put me on the path of darkness and guilt trips that go nowhere but deeper into the muck and mire. I really want to turn around, I think, but I don’t know how. I am so deep in darkness I don’t know which way it is to the light.

“I am the way.! The path is narrow and full of challenges, but I will provide you strength you do not know you have. Trust and obey – choose and move. There’s no other way.”

It’s my move, and I will never be any closer to the truth than I am today.”

“Follow me.”

Fr. Rohr’s meditation continues: “W. H. Auden expressed his grief in much the same way in his poem “Funeral Blues,” which ends with these lines:

“The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.” [1]

Perhaps some of us have been there—so hurt and betrayed, so devastated by our losses that we echo Job’s cry about the day he was born, “May that day be darkness. May God on high have no thought for it, may no light shine on it. May murk and deep shadow claim it for their own” (Job 3:4–5). It’s beautiful, poetic imagery. He’s saying: “Uncreate the day. Make it not a day of light, but darkness. Let clouds hang over it, eclipse swoop down on it.” Where God in Genesis speaks “Let there be light,” Job insists “Let there be darkness.” The day of uncreation, of anti-creation. We probably have to have experienced true depression or betrayal to understand such a feeling.

There’s a part of each of us that feels and speaks that sadness. Not every day, thank goodness. But if we’re willing to feel and participate in the pain of the world, part of us will suffer that kind of despair. If we want to walk with Job, with Jesus, and in solidarity with much of the world, we must allow grace to lead us there as the events of life show themselves. I believe this is exactly what we mean by conformity to Christ.

We must go through the stages of feeling, not only the last death but all the earlier little (and not-so-little) deaths. If we bypass these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way. Many people learn the hard way—by getting ulcers, by all kinds of internal diseases, depression, addictions, irritability, and misdirected anger—because they refuse to let their emotions run their course or to find some appropriate place to share them.

I am convinced that people who do not feel deeply finally do not know deeply either. It is only because Job is willing to feel his emotions that he is able to come to grips with the mystery in his head and heart and gut. He understands holistically and therefore his experience of grief becomes both whole and holy.”

[1] W. H. Auden, “Funeral Blues,” Another Time (Faber and Faber: 1940), 91. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (Crossroad: 1996), 53–55.

And today (Aug. 6) Fr. Rohr provided these encouraging words of hope: “It is essential for us to welcome our grief, whatever form it takes. When we do, we open ourselves to our shared experiences in life. Grief is our common bond. Opening to our sorrow connects us with everyone, everywhere. There is no gesture of kindness that is wasted, no offering of compassion that is useless. We can be generous to every sorrow we see. It is sacred work.”

I would add it is a life-long journey, and with God’s help we can embrace all of life and death in all it’s many forms. Thanks be to God.

All Saints, Birthdays, and Elections

I just completed my 74th trip around the sun and feel like I should have some wisdom to foist on my readers; but I’m coming up dry. I suspect it’s because of my stress level over the election and my recovery from back surgery 5 weeks ago. I’m doing well on the latter, but not so much on the former. The non-stop crisis du jour coming out of Washington, and the ominous record numbers of COVID cases is exhausting. I have tried to cut back on reading and listening to the news, but it’s like the proverbial train wreck that I can’t stop watching.
This much I know for sure — I cannot wait for the incessant requests for campaign contributions to end. Each one tells me that the sky is falling if I don’t give or give again. Enough already!!

This election reminds me a lot of the Nixon-McGovern election in 1972. Then too an embattled and corrupt incumbent was running for re-election against a liberal Democrat. Only that time around the Democrats overreacted to Nixon’s far right agenda and chose a candidate who was way too liberal for the country, and McGovern lost in an embarrassing landslide. Since that was only the second presidential election I could vote in my idealism was badly deflated not only because my candidate lost but because McGovern carried only one state and the District of Columbia. It was the worst whuppin’ any presidential candidate ever suffered, and I was devastated—lower than a snake’s belly. So to help pull me out of my funk a very wise friend/mentor gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten.

That friend, Russ, died early this year as one of 2020’s first of many low blows. And I miss him a lot, but when I remember his advice I feel like he’s still speaking to me from beyond. The particular piece of wisdom I’m remembering just now went something like this: “Elections are like city buses, if you miss one there will be another coming along soon.” In other words we can’t change the past but we can learn from it and move forward.

That advice didn’t sink in immediately. I remember writing a very dooms dayish letter to the editor shortly after that election bemoaning that since not even an election could get us out of the disastrous war in Vietnam all we could do now was to wait for the ultimate judgment of God. I’m glad I was wrong about that prediction. But as apocalyptic as my younger self thought that election was 48 years ago the 2020 version seems so much more critical to the future of our democracy. In part I feel that way because looking back on the 70’s we all know that the Watergate scandal took Nixon down when the election didn’t. And Nixon resigned because there was bipartisan agreement in Congress that he would be impeached if he didn’t. Such a spirit of valuing justice over party loyalty seems totally out of reach in the hyper partisan 2020 world, and that scares me.

I have now voted in 13 presidential elections, and I am much older than my friend Russ was in 1972 when he gave me that advice; but I don’t feel as wise as he was. Perhaps that is because all the foundations and norms we have lived by have been shaken by the 45th president. We are living in a far different reality than 1972 and that concerns me very much. Fortunately in my many trips around the sun I have learned a few things, none more important than this: God’s time is not our time, whether it’s daylight savings or not. We can change our clocks all we want, but the eternal truth is that all earthly kingdoms and super powers come and go, but God’s reign is forever. My tiny spin around the sun, no matter how long it lasts, is but a nano second in God’s time.

So whatever the outcome and whenever this ugly election ends that truth will won’t change. Our salvation history teaches us repeatedly that no matter what earthly calamities human disobedience to God’s will causes, there will always be a faithful remnant to carry on. God will raise up as always unexpected leaders from the most unlikely places here or elsewhere in the universe.

I have used words from Psalm 46 to comfort those who mourn at many funerals, but they also apply to national crises, of which Israel had plenty; and those words still speak to us today:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Prayer for a Damascus Road Moment for President Trump

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:1-6)

O mighty God of transformation, I pray today for the healing of our President from the Coronavirus and for all others suffering from this deadly virus with access to far less health care resources available to presidents and government leaders. And I pray this Walter Reed sojourn will be a dramatic healing of Donald Trump’s soul like what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. You, O healing spirit, who transformed the murderous, zealous Saul into the most ardent evangelist of the infant church, hear my prayer.

We know you have the power, Lord, to redeem the coldest heart and to forgive the most grievous purveyors of suffering, even on those closest to them. I do not have it in my heart to forgive Mr. Trump’s lies and onslaught on our democratic values. But I know you can. You have showed us in the risen Christ who turned Saul’s life around that unimaginable conversion is possible through a savior who turned the hierarchy of Roman society on it’s head by feeding, healing, touching and forgiving those who were left behind by those who had broken their covenant with you.

Now, O loving God, when this virus has brought Donald Trump as close to humility as he has ever been use this moment of his vulnerability as an opportunity to break through his facade of superiority. Embrace him with compassion that will melt his cold heart. Remove the scales from his eyes, unplug his ears so he can finally see and hear the plight of those who are suffering from his misguided view of the world. Move him with such gratitude for your healing love that he will use his worldly power to extend the privileges he enjoys to the marginalized — to all people of color, to immigrants in cages, to the working poor and those with inadequate food, education, and opportunity to have a decent quality of life.

I know I’m asking a lot, dear Lord, so much that my imagination is stretched to the limit. But I know the story of Saul/Paul whom you turned from vicious Christian killer to one who endured prison, shipwreck and unbelievable persecution to share the life-changing power of your grace because he had experienced it personally in such a drastic way that he would not let anything stop him from taking the Gospel to the very seat of worldly power in Rome.

I humbly implore your healing power to break into my unbelief and into the deluge of terrible news that has bombarded us for this longest year in my lifetime. We need a miracle, God, to heal the dangerous and increasingly violent differences in our culture. I fear we are nearing the point of no return as tensions mount leading up to this election. I have never before been afraid of my neighbors because of their political views. The spiritual healing of Donald Trump could lead to a healing of our nation’s pandemic of hate and violence. I pray with all my being for his healing and conversion and for the transformation of our nation to be worthy of our highest ideals of liberty and freedom for all of your children. In the name and for the sake of our Risen Christ, Amen and Amen.